Acendas Keeps Growth on Itinerary by Adapting Today for Tomorrow


 

Brent Blake has come to expect the same cocktail party conversation any time someone asks him what he does for a living.

“I’ll say: ‘I run a travel company.’ And they’ll say: ‘Oh, that’s unfortunate. I’m really sorry,'” Blake said. “It’s like a wake. And I’ll have to say: ‘No, no, no. It’s really OK.'”

Truth of the matter is, it’s more than OK.

Blake is co-president of Acendas Inc., a company that has flourished despite a travel industry implosion and economic downturn.

Acendas achieved more than $94 million in sales in its corporate travel division during 2007 — a year when the company’s revenue was up 9.1 percent and its profit rose 31.2 percent.

“We are always looking down the road … so that we don’t get hit tomorrow with something we weren’t anticipating,” said Gary Davis, the other co-president. “That’s why I don’t think Acendas has hiccups like other companies.”

Blake and Davis — who assumed co-leadership roles at Acendas in 1998 — were looking ahead when they went through what they call their internal cultural revolution of 2001.

Back then, the travel business was all about having offices close to your customer, Davis said.

“But we were able to see that that model had reached its end, and it was time to change,” he said. “So we brought seven or eight offices into a single office here.”

They also changed the client roster. Acendas had been focused on small entities and individual travelers, but it shifted its primary focus to corporate clients that spend $100,000 to $10 million a year on air travel.

Blake said that companies spending $100 million “weren’t necessarily going to see a Kansas City-based company” and that those with three travelers a year had no value proposition.

“But we saw that there was this middle niche … that was greatly underserved,” he said. “Our growth has come from the ability to focus on that niche.”

Acendas provides its corporate customers with tailored service to analyze and manage travel spending and avert a loss of travel data. It offers Security: Source, a combination of several crisis-management programs, as well as People Tracker, Acendas’ proprietary software that lets companies track employees anywhere in the world.

“They give employees customized services,” said client Bob Morrie, vice president of corporate accounting in the Kansas City office of American Century Investments. “And they are always looking out for new technology and new resources.”

Acendas also is active in the community, participating annually in the Don Bosco Adopt-a-Family program and donating cruises and travel packages for a long list of charitable organizations.

Blake and Davis said momentum has been easy to maintain since setting a new course in 2001.

The company also focuses on the importance of hiring and empowering the right people — something that is not without challenges.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find people who are passionate about travel,” Davis said. “A lot of the schools have closed down.”

But Acendas’ focus on technology has allowed the company to expand its search outside the region and use home-based employees in several states. Adding people without adding facilities has benefited the bottom line, Davis said.

And the different time zones of its out-of-state employees have been incorporated into a before- and afterhours help desk as well as an opportunity to court clients throughout the country.

“Kansas City is our home base. We want to dominate Kansas City, and we really do,” Blake said. “We’ll always maintain and keep focused on that. But now, we can expand.”

Rebecca Logan | Logan is a freelance writer in the Kansas City area. All contents of this site © American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved. May 16th 2008